With the Bundesliga becoming the first major sporting competition to return to action, DAZN’s Andrés Veredas Salazar was the man for the newest, most ingenious job in football.
After several long months for football fans, Europe’s main leagues have restarted. But it’s not quite football as we knew it. Matches are played behind closed doors; no fans, minimal backroom staff and limited numbers in the stadium. Players are not shaking hands and flamboyant goal celebrations are few and far between, for now at least.
Fans, now unable to attend games in person, are more reliant than ever on broadcasters to take them closer to the beautiful game. But without thousands of fans in the stadium to create the electric matchday atmosphere, we knew we had to get creative.
When the Bundesliga announced its return in early May, we immediately began exploring ways to create the most immersive experience for fans at home.
If you’ve ever watched a horror film with the sound off, you’ll understand why we immediately pinpointed audio as a key element of the game that would be missed. Sound drives our emotions which are at the heart of great live sporting experience. So, we started to look at ways to enhanced the audio.
Replicating the atmosphere created by 70,000 fans is no easy task but by adapting existing DAZN technology, we felt it was possible to create an experience that would enhance rather than distract from the on-screen action.
A decision was made early on that to create something that felt real, it needed to be done by a person, in real time. While this posed several challenges and required a lot of production hours, we felt the end-product would be well worth it.
The Bundesliga had made the crowd noises from last season’s games available online, so we had access to real audio of the actual teams playing each other.
Once we’d downloaded the audio files, we had to isolate different parts of what we’d need to replicate a live stadium experience into separate tracks; the crowd, the players and coaches and instances of goals, fouls, yellow and red cards.
With each of the audio tracks isolated, we were then able to mix in and layer these sounds in real time to match the on-field action, like to a DJ performing a set whilst reacting to a live crowd.
To start, we had to build a base. Stadiums are never silent, but we had to find a section of the track that didn’t contain any fouls, whistles or excessive chanting.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that this was difficult to overcome, but for each game we eventually isolated a five-minute segment that we were then able to loop as a backdrop.
We found that any shorter than five minutes and you could tell it was looped and we immediately lost that ‘real’ feeling we were working so hard to capture.
Next, we identified goals, fouls and bookings to isolate the audio for each of these instances. Finally, the old audio of the players and coaches was completely removed, leaving us with our backing loop and sound effects.
On match day, we’d take the live audio from the stadium and from our production suite in Munich, we’d watch each game closely and use the isolated audio of crowd reactions to respond in real time to the on-field action.
Creating and knowing which audio tracks we had at our disposal was one thing, but mastering how to use them accurately and authentically was crucial.
When you’re doing something like this live, there isn’t any room for error. There’s just one shot to blend three sound sources in real time, capturing and reflecting the emotions of thousands. Any mistake breaks the spell.
Enhanced audio has been a much-debated topic since the restart of football with other leagues adopting similar offerings. Some fans have taken to it, while others have preferred to only hear what was occurring live.
We expected this divide, so we offered fans the choice of watching with or without enhanced audio – and we were pleasantly surprised by the feedback.
Without promoting the feature, the first games saw a third of viewers watching with enhanced audio. By the end of the regular season, we saw this rise to about half. Feedback on social media has also been positive with fans praising the authenticity.
With fans not expected to return to stadiums any time soon, enhanced audio may be with us for a little while longer.
Being the voice of the fans is not a job to take lightly, but playing just a small part to capture and reflect the big emotions as the Bundesliga’s concludes has been a surprising thrill of a season no-one could have predicted.